Human Trafficking of Persons with Disabilities

Sarah Bessell | September 22 | 11:15 AM - 12:15 PM | Room 2591

Trafficking of persons with disabilities is a disturbing new trend in the United States. The 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report identifies persons with disabilities as a vulnerable population in the United States. However, the trafficking of persons with disabilities in the United States is largely unexplored. The primary objective of this session is to raise awareness about this growing problem. This presentation discusses why persons with disabilities are targeted, how they are trafficked, how this can be prevented, and how victims can achieve justice and accountability.

The program will draw from new research on the U.S. -- an in-depth analysis of federal criminal and civil trafficking cases involving victims with disabilities. Case materials document victims with disabilities trafficked into the sex industry, held in forced labor, and trafficked into sexual servitude. Victims have been trafficked and abused in multiple sectors, including the meatpacking industry, the agricultural sector, the commercial sex industry, and domestic servitude.

Case analysis reveals that traffickers target victims with disabilities in order to steal their government disability benefits. A Pennsylvania woman was sentenced to life in prison plus 80 years for a scheme that targeted six individuals with disabilities. As individual representative-payees, perpetrators fall outside the monitoring and investigative authority of federally-mandated Protection & Advocacy agencies.

This presentation will identify the system failures and missed opportunities that contribute to the continued trafficking of persons with disabilities. Using these lessons learned, we hope to initiate a dialogue on how the anti-trafficking community can best serve this vulnerable population.

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